Evidence based?

I have been doing a bit of reading lately about science based and evidence based medicine after being exposed the the world of integrative and alternative medicine. It really is interesting that we can latch on to emotion and anecdotes, in place of scientific fact, double blind clinical trials and so forth. I am not claiming to be an expert on any of these ideas at all, but it does highlight something I have blogged about before – the danger of having so much information at our finger tips online that may be inaccurate and may be biased towards information we have sought out previously on the internet.

This is particularly tricky when it comes to scientific information. If you are anything like me, you don’t have a scientific background so scientific documents are hard to interpret and analyse. And that’s if you are able to get hold of them in the first place! It is really not surprising that we lean towards more decipherable, easily obtained and quickly consumed forms of information from the news media, blogs, Twitter and so forth.

What does this mean for our practice as teachers though? At EduCafe last week, Dr David Moreau touched on some similar topics. He talked about information on neuroscience looking ‘sciencey’ on the internet and programs that claim to train your brain without the evidence to back them up. He also mentioned that Brain Gym and learning styles had no scientific evidence base supporting them. This is somewhat worrisome since some teachers still talk about both these things. Listening to teachers’ language (myself included), we say “I believe it works…” “the kids really enjoyed it” “I think it is really important…”

I wonder if all this intuition, which is an important part of teaching, can get in the way of rigor, evidence and fact. I look at all the things I believe are important in education and I can back them up with readings and respected educationalists who believe similar things but is that really akin to a scientific trial? And does it need to be?

The other side to this is the argument that in complex times we can no longer use ‘best practice.’ Instead we need to look towards ’emergent practice’


(From Dave Snowden’s work on complexity theory.)

Like everything, I think we need a balance. I think we need to be well informed and critical consumers of information. For this, I think educators and parents need a reliable, open, user friendly source of information about educational and neurological research, much like Sense about Science. I also think we need to embrace emergent practice; try things out, learn what the impact is, make a call about whether we need to amp it up or shut it down, then share our learning with others. We have so few hours with students each day, how can we justify that what we do with those hours makes a real difference; whether the proof is small scale findings from an emergent practice or a rigorous scientific study…


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